ADVANCE REVIEW: Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks

ADVANCE REVIEW! Frank Reade Adventures in the Age of Invention will go on sale Wednesday, February 1, 2012.

 

The world of Frank Reade and his family is one of pure action and adventure. It's a world of giant octopuses and armored all-terrain land rovers, of steam-powered robots that pull carriages and of amazing airships that soar through the sky. It's a world of intervention and invasion, of growing American power throughout the world and of, well, even more growing American power throughout the world.

The world of Frank Reade is an alternate history of the late 19th and early 20th century told as a cleverly written and wonderfully illustrated sort of coffee table book

Anyone who read and Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett's Boilerplate knows that Guinan and Bennett are masters at creating amazingly realistic and convincing alternate histories of the world, and this book follows comfortably in their previous book's tradition. The creators create a fantastic and intriguing world that has just the perfect touches of verisimilitude to make them the settings seem thoroughly real. 

For instance, Guinan and Bennett deliver a great amount of detail when they're depicting the ironclad boats that the elder Frank Reade creates to help the Union win the Civil War. We get photos that look like classic photos of the people involved, oil paintings that show the great American myth-making machine at work, excerpts from contemporary letters from the people that are involved in the events, excerpts from dime novels about the adventure, and a dispassionate and objective narrator. This gives the events a real three-dimensional feel, a real sense that they actually did happen.

Of course, Bennett and Guinan take pains to parallel events in American and world history in this book which also gives it a sense of realism. You might have read about these events in your history textbook, so to see the involvement of the Reade family in the events of Reconstruction, at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, rubbing shoulders with such notable historic figures as Theodore Roosevelt, Geronimo, Harry Houdini and Thomas Edison, or getting involved in wars in Banana Republics, makes everything in this book feel more real.

The real genius of this book is that Frank Reade was, in fact, a popular figure from the pop culture of the late 18th and early 19th century. His adventures really were told in a series of popular fictional novels, so to go the extra mile and see Reade and his family involved in real-world events is a wonderfully clever juxtaposition. It's a little like the conceit of Alan Moore's Tom Strong, but taken in a very different direction.

I had a fantastic time exploring American history with this interesting and almost real family. It's a rollicking steampunk adventure.

 


 

Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.

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